Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

September 7, 2022

HBCU students take tour of NIFHBCU students, from left, Ashleigh Wilson, Alisha Saylor, Lamia Ruffin, and Sean Nesbit get a close-up look at a NIF target capsule during a NIF tour in June. The tour was one of the many events LLNL organized for the HBCU students. Credit: Jason Laurea

LLNL hosted a group of students and faculty from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) for a week in June to promote internships, job opportunities, and career paths at LLNL.

Judging from the group’s reaction and feedback, the inaugural week-long HBCU tour was a clear success and made a positive impression on the students—all of whom said they would apply for an LLNL internship.

Four undergraduate students—two from Virginia State University (VSU) in Ettrick, Virginia, and two from Elizabeth City State University (ECSU) in Elizabeth City, North Carolina—visited the Laboratory from June 6-10. Joining them were two faculty members from Norfolk State University (NSU) in Norfolk, Virginia.

LLNL research scientists and Norfolk State alums Vanessa Peters and Thejaswi Tumkur Umanath accompanied the group.

“The tour was a great opportunity for the students to see how the Lab broadly recruits students coming out of STEM programs and how ideas and people come together to enable cutting-edge innovations,” Umanath said. “The students were very excited to learn about science at the Lab and had many questions about choosing a career track that would help them secure a position at the Lab in the future.”

The students came to LLNL as part of the Minority Serving Institution Partnership Program (MSIPP), a partnership between NIF&PS and the three HBCUs represented on the tour.

MSIPP is designed to build a pipeline between Department of Energy sites and laboratories and minority serving institutions in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines. It also works to bring a heightened awareness of National Nuclear Security Administration facilities and laboratories to institutions with a common interest STEM research fields.

MSIPP currently supports 24 consortium-based teams of participants from select institutions. The consortium wants to increase the number of talented students, particularly those from historically marginalized groups in STEM areas relevant to LLNL at the undergraduate and graduate levels. The Lab tour group was sponsored by the Consortium for Research and Education in Materials Science and Photonics Engineering.

“These students are grooming to potentially be our next wave of summer interns,” said Zhi Liao, the NIF&PS Workforce Manager involved with the HBCU consortium. “We hope that having them here to see first-hand the (Laboratory) experience would motivate them to continue to work hard to hone their skill sets and also dispel any anxieties of traveling across the country for an internship.”

According to Liao, the goals of the tour were twofold:

  • Strengthen the research and education capabilities of the three HBCUs in materials science and photonics, areas of interest to LLNL.
  • Recruit and prepare talented students at NSU, VSU, and ECSU to excel in STEM disciplines by providing them with career-readiness skills, fundamental knowledge, practical experience, and training through applicable cutting-edge research projects.

In the spring, Liao, Peters, Umanath, and Ibo Matthews, the division leader for the Lab’s Materials Science Division, traveled to the three HBCUs to meet with students and faculty members and discuss how the Lab can provide more visibility on what it has to offer, according to Peters.

“Many of the students heard the lasers aspect loud and clear but were unsure how their degree in chemistry or engineering, whether mechanical, electrical, or optical, could be applied,” Peters said. “Our solution was to provide a number of the students involved in the grant an opportunity to tour the Lab to capture a glimpse of the different career paths available here.”

HBCU tour group poses for photoThe HBCU tour group that visited NIF in June poses for a photo. Shown, from left, are: Patrick Poole, NIF tour guide; Professor Suely Black of Norfolk State University; Elias Anwar, a NSU student and LLNL summer intern; Professor John Bedford of NSU; Jalyn-Rose Clark, a NSU student and NIF summer intern; Alisha Saylor, an Elizabeth City State University student; Lamia Ruffin, a Virginia State University student; GeMoyne’ Glass, a VSU student; Jawan Wilson, a ECSU student; Ashleigh Wilson, a NSU student and LLNL summer intern; and Sean Nesbit, a NSU student and LLNL summer intern. Credit: Sylwia Hamilton

The tour kicked off with the students and faculty members lunching with several African American Body of Laboratory Employees (ABLE) members including division leaders Matthews, Will Evans, and Donn McMahon. The Lab’s ABLE Employee Resource Group is an inclusive organization that provides a forum where employees and guests of all levels can promote awareness of Black, African, African-American, and Caribbean culture and share professional insights.

The week was packed with tours of NIF and several other Lab facilities. The students also heard seminars on two-photon polymerization by James Oakdale and design physics by Madison Martin.

“It was my first time at a national lab, so it was impressive to see the diversity of research and the enormity of resources,” said Professor Suely Black, chair of the Norfolk State chemistry department. “It provided me with a better understanding of how a national lab functions.”

Black said the students “were all very impressed with the opportunities and resources, and excited about the possibility of interning or joining the lab.”

Black’s favorite part of the tour was visiting NIF’s Target Fabrication facility. “To see all the different aspects of the fabrication, with activity going on, was truly a remarkable experience,” she said. “The technology in that room is beyond anything I had seen before.”

Norfolk State chemistry Professor John Bedford also found the Target Fabrication tour “very informative. The amount of accuracy in machining micron-scale parts was mind-blowing.”

He also had high marks for the Lab’s staff and culture. “It was a pleasure to be able to tour LLNL,” he said. “I was very impressed by the wide array of research being conducted on site. The faculty and staff that we met all seemed very nice. I got the sense that the culture there is one of collaboration. Everyone will help if they can to help others achieve success.”

GeMonye’ Glass, a junior mechanical engineering major at Virginia State, said he “really liked NIF and LEAF (the Laboratory for Energy Applications for the Future)—those seem to have caught my eye the most.” He praised Lab officials and staff for “giving a lot of insight in their fields.”

Lamia Ruffin, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering at Virginia State, had a hard time containing her excitement over the visit.

“I am definitely interested in an internship with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory,” she said. “Remember my name—Lamia Ruffin!”

Ruffin added that she was most interested in NIF Target Fabrication and mechanical engineering at the Lab.

“Being able to go inside the Lab allowed me to step into another world I did not know existed,” she said. “Everyone—and I mean everyone—was very friendly and explained what they were doing and how the concept worked. The staff made this event very enjoyable. I was able to talk to multiple people. They all love the Lab and their job there.”

The LLNL tour is the latest in a series of HBCU outreach events, including a successful in-person LLNL Day in 2020 and a virtual LLNL Week in 2021.

Lab staff who provided tours to the students included Ted Laurence, Matthews, Deon Anex, Sarah Baker, Michael Stadermann, Terri Delima, Patrick Poole, Ray Aboud, Jeremy Kroll, Scott Tumey, Bradley Childs, and Jason Jeffries. In addition, Danyelle Asbe provided key support to the Lab HBCU team.

—Jon Kawamoto

Follow us on Twitter: @lasers_llnl